Patriots Mailbag: Trade Deadline Targets, X-Factor DB, O-Line Outlook

The NFL trade deadline is next Tuedsay


Oct 29, 2021

It’s Friday. You know what that means. Time for another New England Patriots mailbag.

In this week’s edition, we tackle some trade deadline thoughts, spotlight one X-factor in New England’s secondary, recognize some unheralded top performers, break down the Patriots’ playoff chances and more.

Do you think Belichick finally trades for a # 1 WR? Cooks? Arob? Ect. I can see CB too
I don’t view Allen Robinson as a viable option for the Patriots given his contract. He’s playing on the franchise tag this season and still is owned nearly $11 million. New England has less than $3 million in salary cap space.

There’s always room for maneuverability with these things, but I doubt the Patriots would want to make the moves necessary to take on Robinson’s price tag.

Brandin Cooks is a different story. With a cap hit of roughly $1.5 million for the rest of the season, he’d be extremely affordable and, as I wrote Wednesday, would be a logical option if the Patriots feel the need to improve their receiving corps.

The Patriots might not be keen to take on Cooks’ $13.7 million cap charge for 2022, though, and the Houston Texans reportedly don’t want to trade him (though his unhappiness in the wake of the Mark Ingram deal could force their hand).

Personally, I don’t view wideout as a major deadline need for the Patriots. But Cooks certainly would improve the group they have. The preeminent NFL nomad of his generation is on pace for his sixth 1,000-yard season in the last seven years, has experience in New England’s system after playing here in 2017 and doesn’t have an extensive injury history, having missed just three games since 2014.

The Patriots entered Friday with roughly $2.9 million in available cap space, per cap expert Miguel Benzan.

Who should the Patriots pursue leading up to the trade deadline?
I’ve mostly focused on cornerbacks as deadline day (Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET) approaches, since that’s the only spot I view as a clear and obvious need for the Patriots.

Denver’s Kyle Fuller is one of the hottest names in the pre-deadline rumor mill, but I wouldn’t make that deal unless the Broncos are willing to eat a solid chunk of Fuller’s $5 million-plus in remaining salary. A two-time Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears, Fuller has not been good this season, ranking 110th out of 112 qualified cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’s positional grades.

Slot corner Noah Igbinoghene, a first-round pick just last year, has been mentioned as a potential trade candidate for Miami. He’s hardly played at all this season for the 1-6 Dolphins but could be a worthwhile reclamation project for the right price. Deadline deals between division rivals are rare, though, making this an unlikely match.

One under-the-radar guy who caught my eye this week is David Long, a third-year player with the Los Angeles Rams.

Mostly a special teamer in 2019 and 2020, Long started the Rams’ first four games this season, then fell behind rookie Robert Rochell on the depth chart saw his playing time plummet. The NFL production hasn’t been there for the Michigan product, but he was widely viewed as an excellent fit for New England ahead of the 2019 draft.

During our pre-draft coverage that year, we said Long had “perfect measurables for a Patriots cornerback,” including a lightning-quick 6.45-second three-cone time. He also hails from a program that’s produced four Patriots picks in the last three drafts, and was compared to J.C. Jackson during the draft process. LA wound up taking him in the third round, two picks after the Patriots grabbed his college teammate, Chase Winovich (and one round after they traded up to select cornerback Joejuan Williams, who now is among the Patriots’ most likely internal trade possibilities).

It’s unclear whether the Rams are even considering moving Long — Rochell now is banged up, so they might want to keep the depth — but he would make sense as a Patriots target.

Do you think Shaun Wade will be given a significant chance in the secondary? If he was so good in the slot in college, why does every team want him outside?
I don’t know how the Patriots plan to use Wade, nor how the former Ohio State star will look once he gets out on the field. But I do know he’s an important X-factor in this Patriots cornerback group.

Wade, who sat out the first four games as a healthy scratch and the last three with a concussion, could solve a lot of New England’s depth issues here if he can return and quickly contribute in the coming weeks. He’s back practicing this week for the first time since early October but has been a limited participant, suggesting he might be cleared for full contact just yet.

It’s probably not smart to expect too much from a player who wasn’t drafted until the fifth round, was traded before the end of his rookie preseason and has yet to play a regular-season NFL snap, but Wade was considered a potential top-10 prospect entering his final season with the Buckeyes, excelling in the slot before a move to outside cornerback that wound up backfiring.

Since joining the Patriots, he’s received praise from head coach Bill Belichick, safety Adrian Phillips and, most recently, cornerback Jalen Mills, who said Thursday that Wade is “going to be a great addition.”

It is odd, Ryan, that both the Baltimore Ravens and the Patriots used Wade almost exclusively as an outside corner during the preseason, which makes projecting his potential role a bit difficult. We’ll see if he’s good to go for Sunday’s matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Wade’s impact (or lack thereof) could influence how New England approaches the deadline. If Belichick believes he can become a regular contributor in a position group that now has lost Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones, maybe the Patriots can get by without external reinforcements. If not, they’ll probably need to make some sort of move here, via either trade or free agency.

The Patriots did make two minor additions earlier this week, signing veteran corners Brian Poole and De’Vante Bausby to their practice squad.

Who’s someone from the Pats you’re seeing on tape that probably isn’t getting the love they deserve?
I shouted him out in a previous mailbag, but Phillips has been very good at safety this season. I also like what I’ve seen lately from linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, who looks like he’s elevated his game in the final year of his rookie contract.

Offensively, guard Ted Karras has played very well in his three starts, which likely helped initiate Mike Onwenu’s shift back to right tackle.

Any news on Trent brown?

Speaking of the offensive line, Brown (calf) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, making it highly unlikely he plays Sunday in Los Angeles. The veteran right tackle became eligible to return from injured reserve this week, but it looks like that won’t be happening until next week at the earliest. Brown has not played a snap since the opening series of Week 1.

The Patriots will have some difficult O-line decisions to make once Brown returns (assuming he does at some point) but seem to have settled on their ideal starting five in the meantime, with Karras and Onwenu joining left tackle Isaiah Wynn, center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason.

Wynn, by the way, is coming off his best game of the season after struggling through the first four games and then missing two weeks of practice while on the reserve/COVID-19 list. If he can keep that up, this line will be in great shape.

Are these Patriots playoff material? Is it in them to become Playoff material? Or only next season?
I believe they can be, but we should have a much clearer answer after this upcoming stretch of at Chargers, at Carolina Panthers and home against the Cleveland Browns. The Panthers no longer look like a legitimate postseason threat, but there’s a good chance the Chargers and Browns both will be part of the AFC’s seven-team playoff field this winter.

If the Patriots want to join them, they need to start proving they can beat opponents who aren’t the Texans or New York Jets — real, legitimate, playoff-caliber teams. And if New England does find itself back in the playoff hunt, those conference games could be vital in determining which teams earn wild-card berths.

Later-season matchups against the Tennessee Titans (Week 12) and Indianapolis Colts (Week 15) fall into that category, as well, as do the Patriots’ three remaining divisional games (at Buffalo, vs. Buffalo and at Miami).

Thumbnail photo via George Walker IV/ via Imagn Content Services
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